“Captain’s log, stardate 9529.1: This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man…where no one…has gone before.”
Far out in space, the U.S.S. Excelsior commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu observes the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis. This is followed by a request for aid from the Klingon Empire when it’s learned that the moon’s obliteration has contaminated the atmosphere of the Klingon home world, threatening all life on the planet within fifty years. Unable to combat the ecological disaster on their own, the Klingons have come, hat in hand in the form of Chancellor Gorkon, leader of the Klingon High Council, who proposes a peace between the Federation and the Empire.
Dispatched to escort Gorkon to Earth to meet with the Federation President, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise soon find themselves caught up in a conspiracy when the chancellor is murdered aboard his own ship. The Enterprise crew is implicated in the assassination, and Kirk and Dr. McCoy tried in a Klingon court and sentenced to imprisonment on a remote Klingon penal colony. Spock and the rest of the crew must now race against time to expose the conspiracy and prove Kirk and McCoy’s innocence, before assassins can strike once again at an upcoming peace summit.
And hilarity ensues.
Released on December 6th, 1991, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country marked the final time the entire cast of the original Star Trek series would appear together on screen*. The film brought to a close one of the more remarkable resurrections and evolutions of an entertainment property, from cancelled 1960s television series to full-blown multi-media franchise. Its release concluded a year marked by celebration and mourning, highlighted by the observance of Star Trek‘s 25th anniversary as well as the death of original series creator Gene Roddenberry.
Developed by Leonard Nimoy and director Nicholas Meyer, the story was conceived as a way to bid farewell to Captain Kirk and his crew, clearing the decks for the eventual promotion of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the big screen. This proved to be accurate not just in real life but also within the fictional construct of the Star Trek mythos, as the film depicts the thawing of relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. This leads to an uneasy alliance between the two interstellar powers which eventually allows for the presence of a Klingon, Lieutenant Worf, on the bridge of the Galaxy-class U.S.S. Enterprise nearly eighty years after the events of this story. Indeed, that bit of progress was even foretold in “Errand of Mercy,” a first-season episode of the original series in 1967, in which the alien Organians predict that the Federation and Empire would one day work together as friends.
Pretty cool, huh?
In addition to making sure each of the main cast has at least one moment to shine at key points throughout the film, Star Trek VI also boasts an impressive guest cast including David Warner (Time After Time, Tron, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), a pre-Sex and the City Kim Cattrall, a post-Robocop Kurtwood Smith, Brock Peters reprising his role of Admiral Cartwright from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (and who would later portray Joseph Sisko, father to Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and the late, great Christopher Plummer.
It also has what I still rank as my favorite teaser trailer of any Star Trek movie ever:
Though Star Trek VI marks the end of adventures with the original Enterprise crew, we would later see Scotty appear in “Relics,” a sixth-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Sulu would appear in a third-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager, “Flashback.” And we can’t overlook “Trials and Tribble-ations,” where the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine insert themselves into the events of the classic original series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Archival footage of Leonard Nimoy as Spock also appears in 2020’s third-season Star Trek: Discovery episode “Unification III.” That episode is itself a sequel of sorts to two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification,” broadcast in 1991 prior to Star Trek VI‘s release.
On the big screen, Scotty, Chekov, and Captain Kirk in particular would factor into the events of 1994’s Star Trek Generations, which would cement the passing of the baton to Jean-Luc Picard and his Next Generation crew. Fifteen years later, Leonard Nimoy would reprise his role of Spock and help to usher in a full-on reimagining of Kirk and the gang for 2009’s Star Trek reboot film. His final on-screen performance was as Spock in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
Still, Star Trek VI ends up being somewhat bittersweet. Though my fellow fans and I were happy to see our heroes in action once more, I also knew even as the end credits rolled and the theater lights came up that Star Trek–the Star Trek I grew up with, at any rate–was over. There would be more adventures in the Final Frontier, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was saying goodbye to old friends for the final time. The last scene of the film, with Kirk reading his log entry as the Enterprise sails away before the cast “signs their names” across the screen and the music builds to a rousing rendition of the original Star Trek fanfare, is still something to watch.
It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still a worthy sign-off for lifelong friends, celebrating the end of an era (of sorts) for those of us who love this stuff.
Happy 30th Anniversary, Star Trek VI.
* in addition to the DS9 episode, the other notable exception is a photograph of the cast inserted into a brief yet touching scene from Star Trek Beyond, released in 2016 to celebrate the franchise’s 50th anniversary.